Trouble with “Trouble in Toyland”

It’s that time of the year when safety scolds come after the toy industry with provocative headlines and questionable safety reviews; one such report is "Trouble in Toyland."  (For the Executive Summary click here  and for the full report click here.  The report was issued by the U.S. PIRG Education fund. Annually  non-profits like the U.S. PIRG choose to target the toy industry just before Black Friday. There intentions may well be sincere but there timing and hyperbole suggests that one of their motiviations is to secure headlines and thereby garner contributions

OK, let me be very clear:  Everyone in the toy industry with a brain and or a heart is for toy safety.  No one wants to see a child harmed and no one wants to pay the penalties, both financial and reputational, as a result. 

And let me also be clear that there is indeed a place for those who keep the toy industry and the CPSIA on their toes.  It’s a needed and important job.

What is not needed is fear mongering.  Case in point, the title of the report is "Trouble in Toy Land.”  Yet if you move past the press release and work through to page 34 of the 36 page report you will find a graph entitled:  “Toy-Related Deaths, 2001-2012.”  According to this graph, deaths due to choking and asphyxiation have declined since 2007 by roughly 75%.  We of course want 0 deaths but I think that’s a good trend don’t you; so why the provocative title “Trouble in Toyland?”

That’s not all:  Let’s take a closer look at the 11 “Examples” provided:

  • Five are from the same company and basically site the same problem each time:  The product can be pulled apart and a swallow size piece can be gotten out.  That is definitely a concern but that one product line represents 45 percent of the “Examples.” 
  • Two of the 11 are from an import company that supplies $1 items to dollar stores; that one company makes up 18% of the report.  So, have almost 75% of the examples from two companies.
  • Two items are sited as having a part that will not pass through the choke tube but is smaller than the small ball tester.  So, you can’t really swallow the part but it the product is cited as a choking hazard.
  • One item is listed as a “Near Small Part.”  Here is their description of the problem:  “The toy has circular near small part and also looks like something that should be eaten. “  What does that sentence even mean?
  • A punch balloon is faulted because the packaging says the balloon is for ages 5 and up while balloons are considered dangerous for children under age 8.  A punch balloon, however, is not a small balloon.  It is big and made of a denser material than a regular balloon.  How would a child be able to swallow it?
  • One of the items sited as a lead hazard is a pencil case.  That is not a toy and should be part of a study on stationary and school supplies.
  • Two products are listed although they meet CPSIA safety standards.  Here is an example of a baby item that is cited as a health hazard but read the description of the problem:  “Tested at 900 ppm Antimony (Sb) although this product may or may not violate the CPSIA’s soluble Antimony limit [my bold] (60ppm), its total antimony of 900ppm puts infants at risk.”  So, in other words, this product meets the safety standards but it is cited as a safety hazard for exposure.”
  • One product is part of a Halloween costume.  Shouldn’t it be part of a study on Halloween costumes and not on toys?

To summarize:

Two of 11 items cited as examples are not toys.

7 of the 11 items are from two companies.

Two items cited as choking hazards actually pass the choke test.

Two items are cited for heavy metals but yet meet safety standards.

1 item’s description is unintelligible.

My analysis tells me that this report failed to provide a story whose facts fit such a provocative headline.    Based upon this report’s own numbers, toy safety is a positive story.  A better title; how about “Safety is Getting Better in Toy Land.” 


One thought

  1. Richard – The best part about this years “Trouble in Toyland” is the front page picture. Notice the small part earring in the right ear of the child pictured. So there are 2 possible small parts (if the earring has a backing). Also, that earring is probably full of heavy elements (but should be properly tested to confirm that). Enough said.

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